There are many kinds of renewable energy alternatives. Quite possibly, there are still other forms in the future that we have not discovered or understand. Five of them remains the most popular in both usage and development: solar, wind, hydro/water, geothermal, and biomass. Each one with their own advantages as well as disadvantages over the others.
We'll begin with the most popular one; the power that we can harness from our Sun - Solar energy.
Solar panel technology is, arguably, the most popular and the most studied renewable energy source . The major development surrounding the technology has allowed it to be more powerful, smaller, and cheaper at the same time.
According to Science Alert, solar power today is already on the same price level with coal in India, which is around 6 cents per Kilowatt-Hour (kWH). With the solar energy price dropping steadily over the years, by 2020, solar energy will be cheaper than coal.
As mentioned before, solar energy has its own advantages and disadvantages over the other variations and available sources of renewable energy.
-Close to zero maintenance needed
Solar panels do not require any mechanical part or moving parts that often malfunction or break down. With that in mind, after installation, they are very reliable and will not meeting any maintenance or repairs. A good glass cleaning once in a while it's basically all that is required.
Remember that annoying sound of diesel generators? Solar panels are 100% silent during its operation, and to some, if not most, it is a major benefit. Can be near homes and would not disturb or cause any noise pollution.
-Long-term Economic Benefits
Although investing in a solar power generating system will cost you significantly, in the long run, you will get an almost totally free, unlimited energy and almost zero maintenance cost. And remember, the cost of a solar power power generating system is currently very affordable.
1. Dependency of Sunlight
Contrary to popular belief, the solar system will still function during cloudy climates, albeit losing significant output. The main problem lies during nighttime.
The panels should also always be at an optimal angle towards the sun, which sometimes require a mechanical tower to correct the angle continuously. The rule of thumb is usually facing south west.
According to Solar Power Authority, by 2016, a solar panel system will cost you around $7-$9 per watt produced, including installation costs. Some utility companies offer discounts and incentives up to 50%, meaning a 10kw system will cost around $50,000-$75,000 including discounts.
Wind power system is catching up to the solar power as the most utilized renewable energy source. According to Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), wind power is the most newly installed renewable energy systems in 2015, especially for industrial usage.
Wind power has the advantage of consistency during cloudy conditions and night time, which is more desirable for industrial applications. Still, wind power system also has other advantages such as:
-Uses Vertical space
Although taller than other systems, especially solar system, wind turbines utilized very little plot on the ground and their way up towards the sky
The Wind is more efficiently captured into electrical energy compared to other renewable energy sources, meaning you'll get almost 100% of the energy of wind speed. In comparison, today's most advanced silicon-based solar system can only capture 20% of the sunlight's energy.
Wind turbines can be very noisy, even more so during its maximum output.
- Wind Dependence
Wind turbines can only perform in areas with consistent and decent wind speed, and sometimes wind pattern can be unpredictable even in the most consistent areas.
According to Windustry.org, a wind power system will cost you around $3,000-$5,000 per kilowatt. This means a 10 kW system will cost you around $30,000-$50,000.
Hydroelectric technology is the oldest renewable energy utilized by men. The very first hydroelectric power plant was built in 1878 and is still one of the most popular ways to generate electricity in most countries.
According to National Geographic, hydropower generates almost 20% of today's electricity all around the globe and is still the cheapest renewable energy resource.
Once the system has been installed, the water will be recycled back to nature, and is renewed continuously by rain and snow. This phenomenon provides a 100% free and unlimited energy resource.
Hydroelectric power plants do not produce any waste byproducts, creating a perfectly clean energy.
-High Initial Cost
Building a hydropower plant and dam around a river can be very expensive initially, almost limiting this renewable energy alternative to gigantic industrial and government usage.
Permits and Licenses required before you can build your own hydropower plant can also be very complicated, if not impossible.
-Disturbance of Water Ecosystem
Damming a river may disrupt natural ecosystem for fish, as well as damaging other natural resources. The artificial water movement created by dams also reduce the dissolved oxygen level in its surrounding area, which can be harmful to fishes and other organisms.
According to Hydro.org, building a large-scale hydropower system of above 50 MW will cost you around $1,000-$5000 per kilowatt, which is significantly cheaper than solar or wind power we discussed above.
However, building a smaller scale hydropower system below 0.1 MegaWatts will cost $4,000-$6,000 per kilowatt, which limits hydropower as a residential energy option.
Geothermal technology produces electricity and power by utilizing the (almost) unlimited heat generated by the earth's core.
According to Union of Concerned Scientists, geothermal is responsible for more than 11,000 MegaWatts of electricity all around the world in 2013 and has increased ever since. 30% of that number is generated in the U.S. alone.
By 2019, geothermal energy is also expected to be cheaper than coals and natural gas, with expected cost around 5 cents per kiloWatt hour
Utilizing geothermal energy is similar with hydroelectric in many levels, especially in the fact that both are very complex and expensive in the initial installation, but after that, you got a reliable, sustainable source of energy for 24/7.
-High Efficiency, Low Maintenance
Once installed, a geothermal heat pump can last for 20 years, and also very efficient in electrical usage. Geothermal heat pumps utilize 25%-50% less electricity than conventional heating or cooling system.
-Zero Noise, Zero Emission
Extremely silent during its operations and provide no waste byproducts.
-High Initial Investment
As mentioned, the initial installation for geothermal power plant can be very complex and very expensive.
-Needs a lot of space
The system requires a large amount of land for installation.
According to Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the vast amount of land required will limit geothermal power as small-scale power generation method. In an optimal setting, a large-scale geothermal power plant will cost around 5 cents per kWH.
Geothermal energy can also be utilized for a heating system, Energyhomes.org mentioned that installing a geothermal heating system for a 2,500 sq ft house will cost around $20,000-$25,000.
Biomass energy has gained an increase in popularity, as well as breakthrough in developments during the recent few years.
Biomass energy can generally be divided into two categories: Biofuel and Biodiesel. Corn or sugar-based ethanol are popular sources for Biofuel, while Biodiesels are typically made of vegetable oils, recycled greases, or animal fats.
Biomass energy provides a versatile renewable energy source and could be the answer for transportation's dependence on fossil fuel in the near future. International Energy Agency predicts that by 2050, biofuels can provide up to 27% of the world's transportation.
Biomass is also a reliable source to generate electricity, although the cost is still higher than other, more popular renewable energy sources like solar and wind.
-Smoother Transition from Fossil Fuel
With their similarities, in essence, biofuel is a natural replacement for fossil fuel, and won't require significant modifications in vehicles or other devices that utilize it.
- Not 100% Carbon-Free
Fossil fuels power the machinery utilized to produce biofuels and biodiesels, meaning carbon wastes are produced. Biomass also produces carbon emission during its usage, although some will debate that the plants used to produce it are consuming carbon, neutralizing the carbon emission chain.
Considering that account, research suggests that biomass energy produces 50%-60% carbon emission than fossil fuel.
According to Biomass Magazine, the total cost for biomass plant installation is around $3,500-$4,400 per kiloWatt production, with a leveled coLevelized gy around $0.08- $0.15 per kiloWatt-Hour.
As youcan see, there are numerous ways available now to create energy without using traditional fossil fuels. In the future, we should be seeing more and more availability of clean up our such as the 5 mentioned above. One day, we hope we can be totally free of fossil fuels and the whole world would be energy self sustainable.
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